Healthy weight the healthy way
By Anastasia Knyazeva and Margaret Angus
Participating in the Partners for Healthier Weight Program has changed Diane LeBlanc’s life.
She used to be embarassed by her weight and wanted to hide. She was losing mobility and had given up on ever achieving a healthy weight. With elevated blood sugars and a family history of diabetes, she saw clearly the path ahead.
Now, six months into the year-long program, she said, “I feel like I’ve gotten my life back.”
The first group of participants completed the full program earlier this month.
LeBlanc initially ruled out the Partners for Healthier Weight, which demands a significant commitment of time, energy and money.
“I thought it was too much money, too much time and too much to ask of any human being,” she said.
But when a friend shared the details of her positive experience with the program, LeBlanc decided to go for it.
Focus on healthy weight, not “weight loss”
Partners for Healthier Weight takes an evidence-based, medically and psychologically monitored approach to helping people achieve a healthier body. It is designed for people who are obese (body mass index of 30 or greater) and are experiencing significant issues related to their weight. Participants must be referred by their family physician and undergo an initial assessment before being enrolled.
Partners for Healthier Weight is unlike many “weight loss” programs that promise people they will achieve their ideal body weight in time for bikini season.
“It’s easy to lose weight,” said Michael Vallis, psychologist and co-lead of the Partners for Healthier Weight Program. “It’s extremely difficult to maintain.”
The program aims to help participants achieve healthy weight loss (five to 10 per cent of their body weight during the course of the program) and learn how to maintain a healthy weight.
“We don’t focus on goal weights,” said Vallis. “We’d be happy if someone lost an ounce and was healthy and happy.”
Changing beliefs about and relationships to food
A significant part of the program is identifying psychosocial issues that may be related to obesity.
During the initial 12-week phase, regular meals are replaced with Optifast, a liquid diet that meets participants’ nutritional needs.
“When the noise of food isn’t in the picture, you can wipe the slate clean of beliefs and self-talk around food and ask, ‘What do I want to be different in my life?’” said LeBlanc.
Vallis explained that after participants improve their relationships with food they are less likely to be addicted to unhealthy foods, to overeat, and to feel guilty about eating.
“We see it as an opportunity for people to re-learn their relationships with food, by helping them answer: what is your relationship with food and how can you have a healthier relationship?” he said.
Following the initial 12 weeks, participants transition back to foods. “The six-week transition was easy and natural,” said LeBlanc, who credits the fact that foods are introduced slowly and methodically.
A comprehensive program
Participants in the program receive the following:
- An initial medical, nutritional and psychological assessment by a team of health professionals
- Weekly 90-minute group sessions for the first 26 weeks facilitated by program dietitian, psychologist or physiotherpaist
- Weekly 90-minute supportive group sessions, in addition to weekly medical assessments by the program nurse
- Weekly support materials
- A one-hour consultation with a registered dietitian
- Optifast, a total meal replacement, for the 12-week meal replacement phase and six-week transition phase
- Six followup group sessions
A multi-disciplinary team, consisting of dietitians, psychologists, physiotherapists and program nurses, who medically and psychologically monitor participant,s supports the program, said Deanne Ortman, clinical dietitian and program co-ordinator.
In the final 26 weeks, participants attend monthly group sessions. Over the course of the program participants share their experiences with groupmates, an important support.
“Our group (is) so close; everyone want(s) the best for everyone else,” said LeBlanc, who said many of her groupmates will be lifelong friends.
A financial investment
The program does come with a financial price tag – $2995 – most of which pays the professionals involved and covers the cost of the Optifast meal replacement.
This cost may be intimidating – even out of reach – for some. LeBlanc initially hesitated to spend this much money on herself. But I nhindsight she sees it as a worthwhile investment.
“I have a different sense of self-worth,” she said. “I’ll probably extend my life for a decade, certainly the quality of my life. How can you possibly put a price on ‘I’m going to have a different life?’”
Making a financial investment is also an incentive not to return to unhealthy habits, she said.
A healthier relationship to food
LeBlanc’s eating habits have changed drastically. While fast food and ice cream were a regular part of her former diet, she now said, “I never eat that. I don’t want it.”
She is now a vegetarian, and meal planning has become a priority for LeBlanc and her husband. LeBlanc still enjoys food – very much. The difference is the food she eats is contributing to a healthier, happier life.
To those considering the program, LeBlanc urges, “Give yourself one chance. Every day I count my blessings for the program.”
Partners for Healthier Weight is operated by Partners for Care, a non-profit organization that raises revenue for Capital Health through a number of business ventures.
For additional information about Partners for Healthier Weight, please contact (902) 473-1189 or visit www.partnersforcare.ca.